The importance of dress watches

The 2017, 39 mm, yellow gold Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra-Thin with blue “Petite Tapisserie” dial (Ref. 15202BA.OO.1240BA.01)

This is one category of watches that I absolutely nailed. I believe I own the perfect dress watch on the planet — more on that later. I didn’t even get into dressy timepieces until a year ago. Until then, I had only been crazy for divers, racing chronos and sports watches. Dressier watches became an acquired taste. Since I wear a suit most of the time, it makes sense that I should have some watches for business and formal occasions. So today, I would like to explore this theme.

Drive de Cartier Moon Phases

Drive de Cartier Moon Phases in steel

It is nearly impossible to categorise watches today. Anything goes — I know bank executives that wear divers on rubber straps into the board room. You have to wonder if categories even apply anymore. Consider the Rolex Submariner — the most iconic sports watch in the world. My stock broker wears a Submariner every day with his business suits and it looks both appropriate and amazing. Could we call the Sub a dress watch? How about the Datejust II? In my mind, the DJ2 is an elegant dressy watch 100%. But many Rolex experts would call the DJ2 a sports watch. Watches can often fall into many categories at the same time. I think we can still agree on the general idea of a dressy watch. It should fit under dress shirt cuffs, so it should be small and thin. It should look good with business and formal attire, so it should probably have a classic style and be somewhat understated (unless it’s gold!). I think we can work with this theme.

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic with sandblasted titanium case.

The dress watch represents the more delicate and sophisticated side of watchmaking. Think — weddings, galas, cognac and cigars. In this context, we really see the timepiece as a fashion accessory, although it can incorporate an extremely high-end and complicated movement. Despite the potentially supreme movement in your dress watch, you will not be wearing it to go cycling or swimming. Your dress watch may have a chronograph and an annual calendar, but you won’t wear it during the weekend for hardware store shopping and BBQ-ing burgers. The dress watch uses its mechanical mastery to provide a feeling of luxury and sophistication. It’s about mechanical engineering for the sake of it… and maybe a bit about status. That’s true for all mechanical watches, although my pals love to use their divers and GMT’s on their beach vacations.

Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Ultra Slim

For me, an ideal dress watch is thin, simple (i.e. time only), manually wound, and classy-yet-contemporary. And I already own the ideal dress watch — the Montblanc Heritage Chronometrie Ultra Slim. This watch epitomises the dressy timepiece. It’s absolutely sensational and gorgeous to wear. I would love to own the gold version, although I prefer stainless steel in general. If you are looking for a dress watch, look at the entire Montblanc Heritage Chronometrie lineup- they have automatic, complications, gold, steel — these are wonderful examples of a proper men’s dress timepiece. With a greater budget, I would also LOVE to have a Bulgari Octo or a Hublot Classic Fusion Ultra-Thin. Of course, an AP Royal Oak could do nicely!

Hublot Classic Fusion Ultra-Thin Titanium White Dial

One problem I have with many high-end dress watches is their precious metals. I am not really a fan of white gold and this also boosts the price considerably. I absolutely love the style and movement of so many Lange pieces, for example, but they all seem to be white gold or yellow gold or platinum. I would much prefer to see these in stainless steel. I have actually been craving something with rose gold, but in general, I prefer the versatility, durability and affordability of stainless steel. Oh, for sure, I dream about that rose-gold-on-black Daytona. But there are many formal occasions where I would not want to go all out gold bling. I would prefer a subtle stainless steel watch… like my Montblanc!

A great alternative to Adolph Lange is Glashütte Original that offers high-end complications, superbly decorated movements, beautiful dials and of course very elegant cases that are… stainless steel! For example the Senator Excellence Panorama Date Moon Phase with big date and moon phase complications.

My Montblanc gets the least wrist time of all my watches, but it is among my favourites. On a daily basis, I wear different automatic pieces, including one on a steel bracelet. Nevertheless, I feel that my dressy Montblanc is essential to my collection. Even if it comes out only 4 or 5 times in a typical month, it plays a key role in my rotation. As a collector, you might want to consider such a piece. You can wear your Seamaster or your Superocean on a daily basis and “save” your dressy piece for black tie events and award ceremonies. Your dressy piece can come out when you need that special feeling. Or when you’re wearing a French cuff shirt and you need a real elegant timepiece to fit under said shirt cuffs and complement your cufflinks. That’s where my Montblanc shines. On a more regular basis, I wear a Carrera Calibre 6, which is quite dressy and looks great with blue shirts. When I need a white dress shirt and a black or grey suit, I wind up the Montblanc for the occasion.

Hamilton Intra-Matic

Hamilton Intra-Matic with metal bracelet.

I think a really well-rounded collection should include a dressy timepiece. Even if you won’t wear it every week, I think it’s money well spent. I can think of many examples in all price ranges. For about $1,000 CAD, you can buy a Hamilton Intra-Matic. For about $2,000, you can buy a Longines Saint-Imier. For under $3,000, you can buy a 39mm TAG Heuer Carrera. For under $5,000, you can buy some of the amazing Montblanc Heritage Chronometrie pieces. And if I could spend $10,000, I would be looking at Bulgari. We should also mention Cartier — some of the most elegant and well-made men’s timepieces in the world. I would even add the new Rolex Datejust 41 which, to me, looks like the ultimate “everyday dress watch.”

Rolex Datejust 41

The 2017 Rolex Datejust 41 in Rolesor (904L stainless steel case with 18 kt white gold fluted bezel).

You may not work in an office or attend fancy evenings. But a classic and elegant timepiece can work for a hipster vibe, too. Trim your beard, squeeze into your tight, rolled-up jeans, put on a plaid shirt and dress it up with a Tissot Heritage 1936. Now, that’s cool. That’s hipster retro cool. Even if you spend your days in a t-shirt, you might like to wear a dress shirt, jeans and a blazer when you take your girlfriend out to dinner. Cue the dressy timepiece. It might be the only night of the week that it comes out, but it certainly plays its role well.

Tissot Heritage 1936

So that’s my take on dress watches. I think they play a key role in any man’s collection. They represent style, sophistication and heritage while providing mechanical joy. They don’t do the heavy lifting out of your collection, but they are there for the special occasions. Do you have a favourite dress watch? Or a target dress watch? Perhaps you should look for one. As always, the fun is in the search…

Yours truly,


TimeCaptain is a self-confessed timepiece junkie.  He spends nearly all of his spare time buying,  selling,  trading,  researching, admiring and trying different timepieces. He's also a fanatic Formula 1 fan, having followed every single Grand Prix since 1991.  He switches to NFL football in the fall and roots for the Green Bay Packers. A child of the 1980's, TimeCaptain is mad about 80's music,  TV, cinema and pop culture.  Another interest of TimeCaptain is space exploration and the study of distant planets and galaxies. When asked about his favorite watch,  TimeCaptain remembers Enzo Ferrari's answer as to his favorite car- "the one I haven't built yet."